The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is considering heading to the Supreme Court for determination of its powers to fix the date for general elections, following fears that the National Assembly would change the order of general elections.
Changing the order of elections could force the electoral body to head to the Supreme Court for clarity on what is turning out to be a conflict between the Constitution, which empowers INEC to fix election dates and the Electoral Act.
The House of Representatives last week voted to amend Section 25 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which would see the National Assembly elections holding first, before elections into the state Houses of Assembly and governorship on a separate day, while the presidential election would be conducted last to complete the general election cycle.
Specifically, the House amended Section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new Section 25(1) which provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
Similarly, Section 87 was amended by adding a new Subsection (11) on the order and timing for the conduct of primaries by political parties.
“The primaries of political parties shall follow the following sequence: (i) State Houses of Assembly (ii) National Assembly (iii) Governorship, and (iv) Presidential.
The proposed amendments, which came barely two weeks after INEC had released the final timetable for the 2019 elections, differ from the current order that provides for the conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections first, and governorship and state assembly elections conducted afterwards.
Going by the INEC timetable, the presidential and National Assembly elections were slated for February 16, 2019, while the state assembly and governorship elections had been scheduled for March 2, 2019.
However, the proposed amendments have caused disquiet in the presidency, which considers them a deliberate ploy by the leaders of the National Assembly to influence the upcoming polls.
The fear in the presidency is that the bandwagon effect of the first set of elections into the National Assembly could affect the other elections.
Under the current order, the reverse is the case as the outcome of the presidential elections, in particular, has a bandwagon effect on the governorship and state assembly elections.
With the re-ordering of the primaries, the House has also made sure that the state governors minimise their influence on the conduct of primaries for the state and national legislatures, so that candidates vying for seats in the assemblies can in turn back them (governors) at their own primaries.
Also, the expectation is that the Senate conference committee which was empaneled last Thursday to reconcile the differences with the version passed by the House, would adopt the version of the lower legislative chamber.
But credible sources at INEC told THISDAY that if the amendments are adopted, it would cause a conflict between the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
“INEC is the body constitutionally empowered to fix election timetables. Now they are making amendments and they (National Assembly) want to make us conduct elections three times instead of twice, which is the current order, not minding the cost implications,” a senior official of INEC who did not want to be named, said.
Another source explained further that should INEC proceed to the Supreme Court, its argument would be based on specific sections of the Constitution, which empowers it to fix the election dates for the presidential, governorship, National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly elections.
Section 76(1) of the Constitution provides that “elections to each House of the National Assembly shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”.
Section 132(1) of the Constitution further states: “An election to the office of the president shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission,” while Section 178(1) provides that “an election to the office of governor of a state shall be held on a date to be appointed by the Independent National Electoral Commission”.
“So if the Electoral Act is saying a different thing, because this is now the lawmakers making the amendments to fix the timetable according to their order, then it would be better for us to get the Supreme Court to decide on the matter,” the source said.
“We would argue that there is a conflict and in such instances, the Constitution is supreme. But of course we will have to go whichever way the court rules or decides,” the source added further.
The development confirmed a report last week by THISDAY that the proposed amendments were causing ripples in the presidency and the electoral commission.
The electoral body is miffed that the amendments are being considered just a few weeks after it released the 2019 general election timetable.